Thursday, March 4, 2010

This one's for you, Mr Q

You came into my life, like a little unexpected surprise. Like a shooting star in a pitch black sky.

Unassuming, unpretentious, vulnerable. You were there from my very first day in hospital.

I'm glad I stopped by that first time, and I'm glad I continued to stop by every day from then on.

You brought humanity into the everyday bustle around me, emotions into the sometimes mechanical task of taking care of the sick. You made me remember pain, fear, courage -- even in the face of that lurking enemy called death.

You and your wife -- you both taught me so much, just by being yourselves, and by allowing me into your lives.

You warmed my heart by your tangible love for each other. How she would stroke your head and kiss you before she left for home every day; how your eyes would brim over with tears whenever she arrived late. You were so worried about her taking the bus alone every day. She's your angel.

You showed me that the most precious of things -- love, faith, peace, hope, courage -- transcend barriers of language and culture. I never learnt very much more than Chao and manejar, but many times we didn't really need the words. 

In bits and pieces, you told me things. Stories of the tango you loved, and how she would always step on your feet. Stories of your children. You never failed to ask where I went during the weekends. You even told me once, upon coming in one Monday morning, that I should take time to party, and siesta too.

I'm glad I was with you throughout your surgery. And though I've eventually come to know that it wasn't a final cure, and that you may never be fully cured, I'm still thankful. Thankful that you're so much better now. Thankful that you've been given a little more time; thankful that you're well enough to spend that precious time with the ones you love the most.

And I'm so thankful that today, you packed up and left Bed Three. You said thank you and farewell to the kind nurses, and with a twinkle in your eye, you told me not to cry as you kissed my forehead. I laughed and said I shouldn't! You've been away from family for so long, and your grandsons can't wait for their Abuelo to finally come home. 

It's where you've always wanted to be.

Thank you, and goodbye, Mr Q. Although there's no other place I'd rather have you be, I will miss you dearly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Things that make me smile

It hasn't been easy. Busyness has caught up quite a bit, unfortunately, but here are just a few things that have punctuated my life and made me smile still. Appreciating little moments, precious things that catch the heart, or just funny catchphrases.


Small girl, big building.

Rabbits scampering across my path in campus. The reason I don't have a photograph? Well, I did say "scampering". :)

Black humour, I know. Especially with all the Criminal Minds episodes I've been watching lately. Blame my appreciation on tiredness. Haha! 
But we gotta give them credit, they really do know how to make ads that catch the eye. 


Nothing like the deep blue of the sea, the smell of the salty breeze and the majestic sound of the crashing waves, to remind us how small we are. And how big He is.

Quite possibly the yummiest waffles I've ever had. The chocolate streaks alone make this a winner, and Max Brenner a genius. I like. 
And those of you who know Mandy will know that foodie makes her happie. Very. :D

Up, up and away. I wish I could fly, like a big red balloon, without a care in the world, wherever the wind takes me. Wishful thinking. :)


It was Valentine's Day, and he was writing a card. He took a good twenty minutes at the table, and I watched as he stopped often to gaze off into the distance, deep in thought, then smile and continue to write.   

I wondered about the recipient of the card. And smiled to know that someone out there is deeply loved and cared for.


Aud and her camera are simply the best when it comes to taking jump shots. 
This was Take One. :) 

My consultant has a lovely office, with glass panels for windows, letting lots of good ol' blue sky and warm sunshine in. And as I sat there today, I was captured by a breathtaking sight.

I've never seen anything like it before. A bunch of white birds soaring across the sky. And they weren't just an ordinary pack of white birds -- the underside of their wings were the most lovely shade of yellow, creating a moving work of art across the clouds. 
Was so blown away it's a wonder I'm not in Africa by now. ;)

I later learnt that my avian friends were salmon-crested cockatoos, and this is the best picture I can get of them (though, just like all photographs attempting to capture beauty, this one still falls short, and in the sunlight, the underside is a very much more vivid shade of yellow):

 Many thanks to Joe Blossom

"The next time it begins to rain... lie down on your belly, nestle your chin into the grass, and get a frog's-eye view of how raindrops fall... The sight of hundreds of blades of grass bowing down and popping back up like piano keys strikes me as one of the merriest sights in the world." 
- Malcolm Margolin -

Sounds like fun. Giving me ideas. :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Holding tomorrows

She passed by. In the silence of the night, she saw him curled up in bed. The wards were darkened, except for the lights at the nurses' station, but she could just make out the frail white-haired figure lying on his side, with the nasogastric tube carefully manuevred out of the way.

Her breath caught every time she glanced in past the open door of his room. She would stop for awhile, keen eyes observing the old man, hoping that he was sleeping well. Feeling utterly powerless. And when, inevitably, she thought about what brought him there in the first place, and what he'd been through and would go through, she would say a prayer.

Fervent. Desperate. Whispered to the Divine, more earnest than she'd been in a long time. Too long.

Perhaps, that is the point of desperation. That we finally reach the end of ourselves. That we are cornered and we are driven to our knees, and we admit that we mere mortals are only capable of so very little. That our completely frightening helplessness eventually pulls our eyes towards Him who is far from helpless. 

Him who holds the whole world, and at the same time, every single human heart, in His loving hands.  

Him who holds tomorrow. Him who holds us.

"I don't know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.
Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand."

~ 'I Know Who Holds Tomorrow', Ira Stanphill ~ 

Monday, February 8, 2010

With all her heart

Nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.


As soon as he said the word, shaking his head, his eyes brimmed over. And as he reached for a tissue from his bedside table, his wrinkled hand trembling as the tears broke free, the young medical student at the foot of his bed realized how unprepared she actually was for a heart-breaking scenario like this. How theory and all the well-practised lessons on comforting patients flew out the window, and all she had left was her heart, and her instinct. 

How difficult it was to choose what to say, and how little there actually was to say.

She was just passing by that cloudy Friday afternoon. Looking for her team, after completing an individual assignment at the clinical school, when she caught familiar sight of him, and decided to step in and say hello. This elderly man, with a shock of white hair and kind kind eyes, had been in hospital from the first day she was posted to the ward. And after six weeks in hospital, the colon surgery was finally decided on. In six days' time.

His wife met her gaze. "He sad," she offered, her Spanish accent unmistakable. "He sad, his operation." The doctor had told them earlier that though necessary, it would not be without risk to his life. Age, concurrent medical conditions and a history of multiple operations did not appear to be working in his favour.

"Mi familia." Another tearful addition, as he wiped his eyes.

The girl, for a moment, was thankful for the Spanish soap operas she loved as a teenager. My family. She felt a hard pang of heartache. What was she to say?

But perhaps, sometimes silence really is golden.
In the momentary bouts of silence, she found that sometimes silent acknowledgement speaks greater volumes than all the words in the world. That comfort sometimes comes in the form of just listening and being there, and verbal cushions are secondary. 

That sometimes though it's important to address medical conditions and worries, it's also important to search for the good things--the cheer, the humour, blessings to be thankful for--and gently shift our gaze to them. The patient needs it, the family needs it, and God knows, so does the doctor.

So she did her best. She stayed for awhile. Talked about family. Faith. Thankfulness for previous operations gone well. Life back in their homeland, and life here. They laughed heartily, when they asked her how long more she had left in medical school and she said, "Tres anyos", and they wanted to know where she had learnt their language.

Midway through the conversation, when he closed his eyes and seemed to drift to sleep, his wife turned to the student: "He tired. Last night no sleep." The student took in her tired eyes, and asked her how she was. She nodded, her gracious smile only barely masking weariness and unspeakable sorrow. "I'm okay."

She shifted her gaze to him. "We been married forty-seven years. This July, forty-seven." And as the student watched, he slowly opened his eyes to nod and smile at her. "Yes... forty-seven years." 

In those few seconds, the medical student saw that menacing pain of possible separation, staring at them straight in the face. Yet in the same instant, she saw the love and chemistry between two people, made for each other, who had walked life together faithfully for almost half a century. She felt like all the warmth she felt in her heart was going to make her burst, and if she could do anything at all to make sure they reached at least that fifty-year mark, she would.

She could have stayed longer, but it was time to leave him to some rest. Encouraging him again to stay mobilized and as healthy as possible for the operation, she said goodbye, promising to come back soon. 

And she said a prayer that she meant with all her heart for the man and his wife, as she closed the door softly behind her.

"Many words do not a good prayer make; what counts is the heartfelt desire to commune with God, and the faith to back it up." - Anon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

'Just thankful for wut ya have'

"That's life -- ya got' stop lookin' at wut ya don't have, and be thankful for wut ya do have."

He smiled as he said it, shrugging his shoulders.  A burly man of about fifty, with twinkling eyes and a warm sense of humour, he had the demeanour of someone who had probably been a pretty mischievous chap back in his heyday. 

I didn't meet him in hospital. But when people hear you're a student doctor, even those you meet outside have a way of placing a tremendous amount of trust in you. They tell you things -- and what a privilege it is.

When I said I was posted in surgery, a witty reply came, punctuated by a chuckle:

"Oh I've been in surgery too, just on the wrong side of the table."

I had to laugh. But in truth, it was no laughing matter. Having been through a major struggle with a fungal infection of the ear, he had gone under the knife for three mastoidectomies. Ear surgeries, to put it simply, often performed in massive infections of the ear, when medications cease to work.

As one can guess, no bodily organ can remain the same after that many surgeries. He came through without any other complications, but he lost his hearing in one side. Three mastoidectomies were just too much for that left ear. After surgery, diabetes and sleep apnoea flared up, and until today, a few months after his final round of surgery, he still has to cope with balance problems and he hasn't returned to work.

He turned to direct his good ear to me.

"You know, my wife's hearing is going too, in the same left ear."

"So she'd have to stand like -- this?" I turned to face my right ear to his, and realized immediately what a tricky position it was for conversation.

"Yeh," came the drawl with a laugh. "Can you imagine taking a walk together? We keep having to shift places!" Smiling and looking at his wife, in a flowery dress, talking to two ladies some distance off, he pondered for a bit. "But all's good, all's good. I'm just thankful to be here today. You know, I could be so much worse off. Just thankful."

I imagined the couple, probably married for a good twenty to thirty years by now, walking down a street, or in a park. Man and wife. Maybe they used to walk down the same street when the wrinkles and grey hairs were lesser, and the hearing was clearer. Now a little adaptation was required, a little 'dance' -- he shifting to one side to say something into her good ear, and she shifting to reply.

And I don't think either one of them would feel it was any trouble. If I could take a photograph, it'd paint perfectly the phrase: 'Growing Old Together'.

Simply because they loved each other. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.

And, not to be forgotten surely, in perfect hearing and in inconvenient deafness too.

"Just thankful for wut ya have." :)

"I cannot promise you a life of sunshine;
I cannot promise riches, wealth or gold;
I cannot promise you an easy pathway
That leads away from change or growing old.
But I can promise all my heart's devotion
A smile to chase away your tears of sorrow;
A love that's ever true and ever growing;
A hand to hold in yours through each tomorrow."
- Mark Twain (1853-1910)

Mom, Dad -- this one's for you. :)

* Image taken from

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bits & pieces of the precious thing called 'weekend'

 In utopia, you'd find me curled up with a good book in a couch by a window like this, sunlight streaming in. Ah, what bliss.

This one was taken in the university library. If I wasn't spending so much time in the hospitals, I'd be here a lot more often.

My new favourite place! Took a walk through almost all the shelves yesterday, and would have gone through all if an announcement didn't come over the intercom that they were closing! So many books on just about everything under the sun -- had me spellbound. Before this, was always in a rush, and only had time to hurry to the medical section. What a pity if in life we rush often to just what we think we want or need, and miss other precious things along the way.

So many good books in the world, so much knowledge to gain, yet so little time to read them all.

But for now, this is what awaits:


HAHA! *nervous laugh, bead of sweat trickles down cheek* 

Just stood outside my house today. Simply taking in the breeze, the sound of leaves rustling and a lone frog singing a solo, looking up to a sky that looked like it couldn't get bluer, and clouds that framed the smile of God upon creation. Breathtaking.


And oh! Discovered something yummy today, inspired by a desperate need for veggies in my meals. Throw chicken strips, lots of lettuce, and a boiled egg together, and smother in mayonnaise. Ta-daa! This is officially Mandy's new favourite meal:
As healthy as can get, and extremely filling if I have two bowls. Yum :)

Friday, January 29, 2010


Hope. It's an amazing thing. Simple, fragile, yet completely essential. It bears the weight of human expectation, the yearning for everything to turn out for good. Like a flame, sometimes it brightly burns, and sometimes it dies down to a flicker, but it always sparkles with the promise of a better tomorrow. And it is this promise -- hope -- that lights up all human endeavour in the midst of adversity. 

It was a small, fragile-looking elderly lady I saw in that bed by the window today. A glance at her records told me that the lined face looking at me, framed by soft white hair, was eighty years old. She had the bleached hospital blankets pulled right up to her chin, oxygen tube in her nose and IV lines in her arms -- fluids, painkillers. She stayed still, but her darting eyes indicated that she was very much aware of what was going on, actively watching and listening as the intern took notes and updated her treatment regimen, and as the registrar spoke to her daughter about the surgery required to remove the tumour.

And when he leaned over and asked her just once again if she was sure about going for surgery, she replied, without skipping a beat:

"Oh, it'll be alright."

I thought I saw it. Passing, but too obvious to not notice, like a shooting star.

The doctor was a little worried, perhaps concerned that she wasn't aware enough of the risks of surgery at her age, and that she was giving consent without sufficient understanding. He added gently:

"Yes, but you do understand that at your age, going for surgery may cause problems to your heart, to your kidney..." He gestured to his chest and side.

Her response, again without skipping a beat, confidence unwavered:

"Oh it'll be alright."

Again I saw it. Unmistakable. Resounding strong through her soft cracked voice, and aflame in her eyes.


Not naive words spoken in ignorance. The spoken affirmation reflected a deeper strength, a deeper determination to get through this disease. To fight, and if by chance she had to, to go down fighting. To dare to hope for the very best, whatever the prognosis looked like. 

I marvelled. I wondered if I'd have that kind of courage to hope, and say, "It'll be alright", even if I couldn't be sure of it.

Wasn't it Christopher Reeve, the 'Superman' star who became a quadriplegic at the age of 33 after a horsing accident, who once said:
"Once you choose hope, anything's possible"?

Ma'am, I really do hope all goes well for you, and you recover swift. As God has blessed you with a hope that inspires, may He bless you with everything else you need.

* Images taken from:;